A transcendent night of romance in 19th century Moscow, like a Great Comet, exceptionally bright

THEATER Based on a 70-page scandalous slice of War and Peace, the sung-through electropop Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is unlike anything you’ve seen on stage. Pioneer Theatre Company joyfully relishes the opportunity to produce this Utah premiere.

It is a thrilling, rapturous staging, with striking storytelling and a sumptuous score, that elevates the magnificence of what our acclaimed company routinely achieves.

The cast is huge, with ten primary characters and ten ensemble players, eight of whom are cast as roving musicians performing on accordions, a clarinet, and various string instruments. There is also a ten-member-strong orchestra conducted with a flourish by Phil Reno. Total: 30.

“Gonna have to study up a little bit if you wanna keep up with the plot ’cause it’s a complicated Russian novel,” we’re told in the prologue, with a vast array of major roles, echoing the doorstopper work of Leo Tolstoy. But at its essence is the storyline of the flighty as a feather character Natasha, who is 12 years old at the beginning of the novel. She has three endearing suitors, only finding true love when the Great Comet of 1812 blazes across the sky as an unexpected portent of a new, fulfilling life. If focused solely on Natasha’s romance — and viewing other characters’ meandering appearances as “just for fun” interludes — it’s not complicated at all.

Ali Ewoldt is a celestial phenomenon as the first titular character. With a lovely, lilting soprano voice, she is luminous as the impulsive Natasha, breaking hearts in “No One Else.” She brings bittersweet beauty to being lost in love and full of life.

It wouldn’t be too grandiose to call Kevin Earley a gift to music theater. There is an awe-inspiring power to his performance as Pierre that appears wholly effortless. He is truly on par with Josh Groban, who created the Broadway role. Earley is a golden-throated actor, undeniably invigorating as he mines the emotional complexity of “Dust and Ashes,” expressing the show’s theme: “They say we are asleep until we fall in love. And I’m so ready to wake up now.”

There are plum roles for each actor. Singled out for excellence are Aleks Pevec as the vain womanizer Anatole, Ginger Bess as the flirtatious Hélène, and Edward Juvier as the curmudgeon Bolkonsky and a rousing troika driver. Mary Fanning Driggs, as Natasha’s tradition-bound godmother, showcases her engaging stage presence, demonstrating why this is her 25th performance on the Pioneer stage.

Wardrobe designer Patrick Holt time-travels to 1812 and brings back vividly colorful costumes specifically chosen to individualize each character. Most opulent is the peacock colors for Hélène. Scenic designer Jo Winiarski’s imperial Russian-red set is impressive at first sight but then proves overpowering.

I raise a glass in tribute to the full expert production team and Karen Azenberg at the helm.

“May your sorrows be counted and numbered as drops of wine and vodka that stay in my glass!” is part of Pierre’s toast to “happiness, freedom, and life.”

► through May 25,

Hänschen finds pleasure in Hart Theater Company’s
‘Spring Awakening.’ Photo: Brighton Sloan

STAGE Like The Grand Comet, Spring Awakening takes a modernist approach to a story set in 1891 Germany. Despite melancholy themes, the show is full of life, a wholly enjoyable evening of theater. We enjoy the characters as they discover sexuality, including Hänschen seducing Ernst.

► through June 25,

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